Sunday, February 19, 2017

So, Memoir/ Emigrants

So: Memoir chapter 2. . . 

       This segment starts in April, 1947. I am six years old and I've heard enough about 'America' to have conjured up images of what it will be like. For one thing there will be Indians (Native Americans) sitting around campfires on the Western Plains. They will have colorful Indian blankets draped upon their shoulders and they will be seated cross-legged on the ground with flames from the fire flickering on their faces. At the same time there will be skyscrapers in New York. The tops of the buildings will literally scrape the sky.
        Until the time of our departure from England, I had been a happy camper. I hadn't 'suffered' from the War, though not far away there was widespread death and destruction and we could have driven just twenty miles to Sheffield, for instance, and had a first-hand look at some of that destruction. For the past two years, my country has been clearing up after the disaster.
       But there's no use dwelling on the past. We are moving to a new country: Canada. One of our last activities in the 'Old Country,' (which is how it will be referred to by many Canadians), was an estate sale. Gradually, Renong the House was emptied of comforts and possessions. I believe my brother's sidecar went for a goodly sum.

My brother writes: I don't have memories of the house at Tickhiil being emptied; I think there was an auction of contents; I may have been away at boarding school. (Worksop.) In hindsight, our father reckoned he should have shipped most of the furniture to Canada. As it was, the money he received from the sale couldn't be transferred to Canada because of the currency controls in place to pay off the War Debt, and not long after we migrated, Britain devalued the pound, so the proceeds from the sale were effectively halved in value. 
       I remember being teased at Worksop College when I told my school-mates we were going to Canada. I had mentioned our Uncle Keith's house was made of wood. The story of the Three Little Pigs must have influenced my school-mates beliefs as to what materials were needed to build a good house. 

       I remember nothing of the trip to Southampton where we boarded the transatlantic ocean liner, but I have a few crisp memories of the voyage. Our ship was the MS Batory. Like most large ocean liners of that era, Batory, a Polish ship in the throes of a developing Cold War between  the Communist World and the West, had been a troop carrier; it was embarking on its maiden voyage since being refurbished for passenger service.
MS Batory in Gdyna, Poland. 1937.

       While we were still in port we (Peter and I) followed our father on a tour of the ship. There were two bars, one sporting red leather barstools and chairs, the other, brown. There was a big dining room with thick white linen napkins and tablecloths. Our stateroom had a porthole, a bed for my father and bunks for my brother and me. Off we went.
       It didn't take long to realize this was not to be a smooth trip. My father had some experience with ocean, having signed on as ship's surgeon on a voyage to Vladivostok and back soon after graduating from Med school. He told us about finding our sea legs and in one moment I said I enjoyed this 'gentle rocking' but the next moment things got dizzy and I got queasy and threw up into the wash basin. Peter held out for a little while but soon he, too, succumbed to mal de mer.
      
      Of the sea passage to North America, the 'gentle rocking' incident is perhaps my main memory. I still can feel queasy on a boat until I get my sea-legs, but the only time I've vomited was on the MS Batory. On other occasions, I might have wished I could throw up and be done with it!   
       For the next couple of days we gradually found our sea legs. My father never did get seasick so he achieved a certain amount of local fame by being one of the only people on two feet during the first days of Batory's maiden voyage. Even if it took two whole days to get vertical, we still had plenty of time ahead: it was a week's voyage to New York.
       I got quite active. There were still rough seas featuring forty-foot waves ( I just invented that number because it seemed like it) which gave rise to a wonderful running game out on the deck. Obviously the ship didn't want to take these waves sideways because that would lead to dangerous rolling motions. No. The ship plunged head first into the waves so the bow and stern were alternately going up and down the whole time. It must have been pretty tiresome for the person at the wheel, but it was great fun running up and down the deck. You'd be speeding downhill and then the next wave would cause you to run uphill.
       There were no mishaps on the deck but one day we were inspecting the swimming pool when I tumbled off the ladder and hit the bottom. Unfortunately there was no water in the pool. It was too rough to fill the pool so it was basically off limits; but somehow I managed to fall into the empty pool. I walked with a limp for the last couple of days into New York, but my spirits were not dampened and my limp was a badge of honor.
       At first, New York was a disappointment. The so-called 'sky-scrapers' were by no means scraping the sky. They looked much shorter than I had been led to believe. We stayed in New York for a couple of days, walking the bustling sidewalks and eating at lunch counters and diners. Two new things: Coca-Cola (ewww!), and black people (fascinating.)
New York harbor with skyscrapers.


       In New York there was an incident in a shop, possibly a Woolworth's. At the check-out, the sales person asked our Dad if he had 'a penny'. She was looking to minimize the change for the transaction. Our Dad, newly arrived from England, thought she on recognizing his English accent was asking for an English penny as a souvenir. When he handed over an English penny she got quite huffy. 'Wise guy!'
       
       The next leg of the journey was by trans-continental train: we were heading for the Pacific Coast, specifically White Rock, British Columbia, Canada, a few miles south of Vancouver. There was a bit of a glitch ordering the tickets for this trip. My father stated his destination but the ticket seller was unable to locate such a place: would British Guyana be acceptable?
       Since British Guyana was on the north coast of South America and British Columbia is on the west coast of North America, no, it was not acceptable. To this day I would be interested to know how the ticket person planned to get us there, but eventually the correct destination was discovered.
       The trip was broken in Chicago where we spent a day or two before boarding the train for Seattle.  
                     
 I don't recall being in Chicago overnight, but we did go to a movie to kill off some time. Was there segregation? I recall rest of the audience was Afro-American.

The train probably would have been the Great Northern's 'Empire Builder' on post card (left) and coming out of the fog west of Chicago, below right.


       I recall the 'British Columbia' incident, but a little differently. From Chicago we were to take the train to Seattle, where our Uncle Keith was to meet us with his car and drive us up to his place in Canada. In Chicago we went into a telegraph office (Western Union?) to send a telegram to Uncle Keith to update him on our expected arrival in Seattle. It was in the Western Union office that the problem of locating British Columbia occurred. It got sorted, but I remember the agent asking if British Guyana would be alright! 
       If our Dad had said he wanted to send the telegram to Canada, the question probably wouldn't have arisen. General knowledge of geography is not great. I remember a colleague in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory receiving a package mailed in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a customs declaration on it. The sender in Winnipeg apparently didn't realize that the Yukon Territory was in Canada.

       Since my father was constantly amused by the sounds coming out of the mouths of Americans, my main memory of this next leg, running up and down the train corridor, was of the little boy (perhaps aged between me and Peter) who stated that he was going home to Seattle, Washington. My father heard this as "Sea-addle-War-shing-tun" with the emphasis  on the WAR. 
       We headed for White Rock because one of my father's eight or nine brothers lived there. Uncle Keith, Aunt Rae, and my thirteen-year-old cousin Ian lived on a little farm in southern BC. close to the American border. I remember the place as 
Dad at Uncle Keith's, 1947. House of wood.
being bright, white and clean, but I felt that Uncle Keith was a glowering presence who shooed me out of his flower bed. There are two hit-parade songs I associate with the White Rock farm, "Zip-a-de-doo-dah," and Eddy Arnold singing "Big Bouquet of Roses."
       We were there for Easter, 1947, because that featured the incident pf the Chocolate Elephant. I had always been one for saving and savoring pleasures; in fact, I understand it's a personality trait. Some people indulge immediately (my brother, I think, I've referred to as 'wolfing' down his food) and others save for later. 
       Anyway, I got a large Chocolate Elephant for Easter; I'm thinking it was perhaps 7 or 8 inches tall. At the same time, Peter got a Chocolate Chicken. The chicken and the elephant were not built to the same scale, the chicken being roughly the same size as the elephant so nobody could have felt cheated. I sequestered my elephant in a drawer and Peter ate his chicken. A day or two later when I went to nibble on my elephant, it was gone. Naturally I blamed my brother but he has maintained his innocence to this very day! Maybe I was wrong and my cousin Ian stole it. Or the evil Uncle Keith. Hmmm. There were dark clouds gathering even before we went off to school.

       I really don't remember eating the Chocolate Elephant, but I do remember the furor. And although Uncle Keith's farm was very close to White Rock, I always think of it as Cloverdale because that was the postal address - RR2 Cloverdale.

        The worst day of my life, to that point for sure, arrived while we were staying in Cloverdale/White Rock. That was the day Peter and I were dropped off at Athlone, an English type boarding school that our father arranged for us in Vancouver. At the corner of 49th and Granville, Athlone was basically a large private house which had been turned into dormitories for boys Grades 1 through 6. It was presided over by a cold, sadistic creature by the name of Mrs. Dryvenside.
       It all happened so quickly and I had no forewarning. We drove to Vancouver and the three of us, my Dad, my brother and me, who had been together happily for several weeks, starting in Tickhill, England, and traveling across an ocean and a continent, rang the doorbell of this huge house. A moment later someone answered, there was a hasty conversation ("It's better if you just leave them") and my gather was gone!
      When I realized what had happened I began to wail and it seemed like I went on wailing and sobbing for hours. I was not to be consoled. There was talk of me being a "war baby" and therefore emotionally unstable, but the fact is I felt abandoned. 
     We lived in Vancouver from 1947 until 1950 and after that we were living between Victoria and Prince George, B.C. I really liked Vancouver and have managed to identify myself with it for the rest of my life. Our father made good friends there, especially Marie and Bill Harrison-Eke. They lived originally in an apartment on Haro Street, downtown, and it was like home there. Marie was a surrogate mother to me and Bill was like a favorite uncle, funny and fun and never mean or strict like most of the adults we knew from Athlone School. The only negative thing about Vancouver was that Athlone School was there and during the school year we lived at the school, pretty much seven days a week. We were allowed to go out Sunday afternoons, but there was always that sense that we would have to return Sunday evenings.
    When our Dad was available, which he usually was, we would go on an outing with him to Stanley Park or Kitsilano Beach, and perhaps end up with supper at the White Spot. Or we'd all go some place with Bill and/or Marie, or go to their apartment. During school vacations, of course, we'd live with our Dad at a small apartment he'd be renting.
    I remember the school holidays as being very enjoyable. Vancouver was a wonderful city to grow up in. Bill and Marie's next door neighbor on Haro Street was the manager of the Orpheum Theater, a Mr. Ivan Ackery. Ivan and Bill were great fun together and now and then we'd get free entry to movies at the Orpheum, which was the largest Picture Palace in Vancouver. 
    The Orpheum was the gem of its block on Granville Street, Vancouver's main business street. The Capitol Theater was number 2 and it was on the same block. There were a couple of other cinemas on Granville, notably the Vogue and the Studio, which played British films. The Studio ran "Tight Little Island" for weeks and showed all the "Doctor" comedies as they came out. In those days, the 1940's, there was no television so the movie theaters were thriving. 
    Going to the Orpheum was the biggest thrill. Peter and I would arrive at the box office on Granville Street, and we'd ask to see the manager, I imagine this was pre-arranged. We'd get to Ivan's office and he'd be carrying a bunch of keys. Then, instead of taking this massive carpeted staircase in the chandelier-hung lobby, we'd be conducted through a ground floor office area and out a door into the back alley. We'd cross the alley with Mr. Ackery who would produce his keys and let us in through a door into the auditorium part of the theater. It was very exciting and we felt quite special. The Orpheum always showed the blockbuster features of the day and on Saturdays there would be children's matinees.
Log cabin in the Cariboo.
          Before we had much acquaintance with Vancouver, however, we met the Cariboo, the mid-section of British Columbia.So, to recap, we spent our arrival time with my uncle Keith's family; had Easter and lost my Chocolate elephant, April; got dropped off at Athlone School, May; and not long after that, thankfully, it was time for the summer holidays, June, 1947.
 



            
      
       






 

  
      

2 comments:

coolumkids said...

I don't have memories of the house at Tickhiil being emptied; I think there was an auction of contents; I may have been away at boarding school. In hindsight, our father reckoned he should have shipped most of the furniture to Canada. As it was, the money he received from the sale couldn't be transferred to Canada because of the currency controls in place to pay off the war debt, and not long after we migrated, Britain devalued the pound, so the proceeds from the sale were effectively halved in value. I remember being teased at Worksop College when I told my school-mates we were going to Canada. I had mentioned our Uncle Keith's house was made of wood. The story of the Three Little Pigs must have influenced my school-mates beliefs as to what materials were needed build a good house.
I really don't remember eating the Chocolate Elephant, but I do remember the furor.
Of the sea passage to North America, the 'gentle rocking' incident is perhaps my main memory. I still can feel queasy on a boat until I get my sea-legs, but the only time I've vomited was on the MS Batory. On other occasions, I might have wished I could throw up and be done with it!
In New York there was an incident in a shop, possibly a Woolworth's. At the check-out, the sales person asked our Dad if he had 'a penny'. She was looking to minimize the change for the transaction. Our Dad, newly arrived from England, thought she on recognizing his English accent was asking for an English penny as a souvenir. When he handed over an English penny she got quite huffy. 'Wise guy!'
I recall the 'British Columbia' incident, but a little differently. And although Uncle Keith's farm was very close to White Rock, I always think of it as Cloverdale because that was the postal address - RR2 Cloverdale. From Chicago we were to take the train to Seattle, where our Uncle Keith was to meet us with his car and drive us up to his place in Canada. In Chicago we went into a telegraph office (Western Union?) to send a telegram to Uncle Keith to update him on our expected arrival in Seattle. It was in the Western Union office that the problem of locating British Columbia occurred. It got sorted, but I remember the agent asking if British Guyana would be alright! If our Dad had said he wanted to send the telegram to Canada, the question probably wouldn't have arisen. General knowledge of geography is not great. I remember a colleague in Whitehores, Yukon Territory receiving a package mailed in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a customs declaration on it. The sender in Winnipeg apparently didn't realize that the Yukon Territory was in Canada.
I don't recall being in Chicago overnight, but we did go to a movie to kill off some time. Was there segregation? I recall rest of the audience was Afro-American.

coolumkids said...

The Empire Builder was powered by steam locomotives when we travelled on it. I remember as we headed into the Rockies an extra locomotive was added to the train. Our Dad was interested in the procedure. He had a brief connection with railroading in England during the General Strike in the 1920s. He had worked (as a strike-breaker) as a stoker or fireman shovelling coal on a locomotive.